Mount Holyoke Heard in Senate on Patriot Act

Thursday, March 9, 2006 - 14:08
(Originally published in the Daily Hampshire Gazette By Gazette Staff and The Associated Press: Friday, March 3, 2006)

NORTHAMPTON - A civil liberties resolution adopted last year by Mount Holyoke College was read on the floor of the U.S. Senate Thursday by Sen. Russell Feingold, D-Wis., shortly before the Senate voted to renew the USA Patriot Act.

The South Hadley women's college's resolution, affirming freedoms in light of the 2001 act, was one of 53 such statements issued by colleges and universities across the country. Feingold has been a leading opponent of the act, which the Senate voted 89-10 to renew after months of debate and changes to the original act that opponents describe as cosmetic.

''(The reauthorized act) is not what we've been fighting for for the last four years,'' said Nancy Talanian, director of the Bill of Rights Defense Committee in Northampton.

In the lead-up to the reauthorization vote this week, Feingold read all eight state resolutions in support of civil liberties, as well as two of the 53 college resolutions, from the University of Texas and Mount Holyoke, according to Linda Stone of the defense committee.

Hundreds of cities and towns, including Amherst, Northampton and Leverett, passed similar resolutions vowing to protect their residents' liberties in the face of threats posed by the Patriot Act.

Passed in the weeks after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, the original Patriot Act expanded the government's surveillance and prosecutorial powers against suspected terrorists, their associates and financiers.

The House is expected to approve the two-bill package next week and send it to the president, who would sign it before 16 provisions expire March 10.

''I am very pleased and relieved,'' said Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist, R-Tenn., a possible presidential candidate, who had been unable to break the deadlock for more than two months. ''It's been very tough to get to this point.''

Thursday's Senate vote came only after a Democrat-led filibuster, with GOP support, forced President Bush to accept modest curbs on the government's power to investigate suspects in terror probes.

When The New York Times revealed in December that Bush had authorized a secret domestic wiretapping program, Democrats gained ammunition for their charge that the administration had run amok in its zeal to root out terrorists.

Even the bill's chief sponsor in the Senate, Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter, R-Pa., promised to introduce a new measure and hold hearings on how to fix it.

Feingold's chief ally, Sen. Robert C. Byrd, D-W.Va., said the package was not enough to check what he described as a presidential tendency through history of ''always grabbing more power.''

''The erosion of freedom rarely comes as an all-out frontal assault,'' warned Byrd, the dean of the Senate. ''Rather, it is a gradual, noxious creeping cloaked in secrecy and glossed over by reassurances of greater security.''

The renewal package would make 14 of 16 temporary provisions permanent and set four-year expirations on the others.

The renewal includes several measures not directly related to terrorism. One would make it harder for illicit labs to obtain ingredients for methamphetamine by requiring pharmacies to sell nonprescription cold medicines only from behind the counter.

Another focuses on port security, imposing new criminal sanctions and a death sentence in certain circumstances for placing a device or substance in U.S. waters that could damage vessels or cargo.

Talanian said her group's fight against the infringements on civil liberties she sees in the Patriot Act would continue.

''It's troubling, but it's not over,'' she said. ''It was exciting to hear Senator Feingold reading the voices of the people standing up for liberty.''

The ''no'' votes in the Senate Thursday came from Jim Jeffords, I-Vt., and Feingold, Byrd and seven other Senate Democrats: Daniel Akaka of Hawaii, Jeff Bingaman of New Mexico, Tom Harkin of Iowa, Patrick Leahy of Vermont, Carl Levin of Michigan, Patty Murray of Washington and Ron Wyden of Oregon.

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